Jobsite Killer of Black Female Carpenter Outi Hicks, Gets 15-Years-to-Life Sentence

Mar 3 '20 | By Ray

The charged killer of a 32-year-old union carpenter apprentice and single mother of three at a Fresno, Calif. construction site whose 2017 bludgeoning sparked fear and outrage among industry tradeswomen and triggered a national movement to stop jobsite harassment and discrimination, has been sentenced in a state superior court to 15 years to life in prison.

Aaron Lopez, a former part-time nonunion worker for a scaffold erection firm at a biomass plant project with Outi Hicks who repeatedly struck her with a heavy metal pipe, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder, according to Fresno County court records.

The plea came in an agreement with prosecutors after he had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a first-degree murder charge in 2018.

Pictured Above - Outi Hicks three son's hold a poster signed by hundreds of tradespeople in honor of their mother. Outi was born in 1984 and was murdered in 2017 by her Co-worker. Outi was a resident of Fresno, California at the time of passing.

According to Engineering News Record ENR Lopez waived an arraignment and was denied probation, the records showed

Gerald Schwab, attorney for Lopez, said at the Feb. 11 sentencing that the defendant had been treated for schizophrenia, PTSD and other mental health disorders and that it would have been difficult for prosecutors to prove premeditation in a case where Lopez killed Hicks for no apparent reason, according to a local TV news report.

Lopez had been harassing Hicks for days before the murder, but she did not report the abuse to her union, Local 701 of the Carpenters' union,  or tell colleagues, according to what some union members had told ENR.

According to Stephanie Basalyga's OP-ED for DJC Oregon -

Although she had been through some rough patches, including a stint in prison, she found her way last year into a position as a carpenter’s apprentice.

To her friends and family, it looked like Outi had found the path that would allow her to build a solid future for herself and her children. The feed of her Facebook account is filled with posts documenting her first welding class and her first payment of carpenters’ union dues. Another, from June, shows a smiling Outi wearing a fluorescent yellow vest, safety glasses perched atop her head. The message: “At work! First job out here. Started from bottom, now I’m here!”

But on Feb. 14, Outi’s journey – and her life – came to an end. While removing scaffolding on a project site, she and a co-worker reportedly became involved in a disagreement. Although details are still being investigated, preliminary reports indicate that other workers didn’t know there was anything wrong until they heard a commotion and rushed over to find 28-year-old Aaron Lopez hitting Outi with a [steel pipe].

Event Spurred Intervention Push

Lopez expressed remorse during his sentencing and took responsibility for his actions, said Kayla Franklin, a 23-year union carpenter and Local 701 member who was in the courtroom. "He said the words," she said. Lopez will serve his sentence at the Wasco State Prison in Kern County, Calif.

Hicks' murder triggered shock among construction tradeswomen although many had often faced jobsite harassment, which was not always reported, they said in social media posts.

All were "shaken to their absolute core the day that happened,”  said Vicki L. O’Leary, a 30-plus-year union ironworker veteran who now is the international union’s general organizer for diversity and a high profile advocate for women in the North American Building Trades Unions.

The murder boosted local and national efforts by women and others in industry to stop jobsite harassment and promote stronger site worker intervention, which includes the Be That One Guy program launched nationally by the ironworkers' union, for which O'Leary was recognized in 2019 with ENR's Award of Excellence.

"Outi is the reason this was and is being confronted. My heart feels a little heavy thinking about her loss of life in such a horrific way and how it is helping to change the industry," says O'Leary, who adds she has presented details about the union's intervention program recently to contractor and owner management groups, and at the American Bar Association's Construction Law forum.

But O'Leary said there should be "no forgiveness for [Lopez's] behavior. Was he remorseful blow after blow after blow?"

California Law

California toughened anti-discrimination and anti-harassment rules for construction apprenticeship program participants, including instructors and contractors, in a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018 that took effect in June 2019. It requires harassment prevention training, and set policies and procedures for handling and resolving complaints and corrective actions.

As of Jan. 1, the law's mandates now apply to all employers in California with five or more employees.

"This incident is a dark example of the gender-based violence experienced by women working in the construction industry," says Melina Harris, a Seattle union carpenter and head of tradeswomen advocacy group Sisters in the Building Trades, which, together with the carpenters' union, raised funds for Hicks' funeral expenses and family support.

"Hicks’ murder should prompt us to engage in serious discussions ...  about how any future acts of violence can be prevented," she says.

ARTICLE CREDITS Debra K. Rubin, ENR Editor-at-Large for Management, Business and Workforce


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